How hairy caterpillars can predict the weather

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About the hairy caterpillar - it is also called a woolly or hairy worm, a bear - it is believed that she is able to predict the arrival of winter frosts. Whether it is a fact or a fictional sign, we will tell you about this famous caterpillar and how to “read” its color.

The legend says: the body of a hairy caterpillar consists of 13 separate segments of brown with red, or black. The wider the brown areas, the milder the coming winter will be. If black prevails, then winter will be harsh.

As a bear, it gained its fame

In the fall of 1948, Dr. S. Curran, an insect expert at the American Museum of Natural History, went with his wife to Bear Mountain National Park to study hairy caterpillars.

Carran collected as many caterpillars as he could in a day, determined the average number of brown segments and predicted when the winter weather would come. This experiment was covered in the New York press by his friend, the reporter.

Dr. Carran continued his research for the next 8 years, trying to scientifically substantiate this weather feature, which is as old as the hills around Bear Mountain. As a result of wide publicity, the hairy caterpillar became the most recognizable caterpillar in North America.

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A bit of theory

This is a medium-sized insect with yellow-orange wings with black spots. Distributed in northern Mexico, USA, and southern Canada. In the moth stage, it is no different from others, however, an undeveloped larva, called a wolf bear, is one of the few caterpillars that humans can identify.

In fact, the caterpillars are covered not with hair, but with short bristles of coarse hair. They hibernate in the cavities inside the tree trunks and under the bark, so in the fall one can often observe a whole caravan crossing the roads and sidewalks.

In the spring, she-bears wrap themselves in cocoons and turn into moths inside them. As a rule, the ends of the body of the caterpillar are painted black, and the middle is brown. This is their distinctive color.

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Can hairy caterpillars predict the winter weather?

From 1948 to 1956, Curran found that the average number of brown segments ranged from 5.3 to 5.6 out of a total of 13.Thus, the brown stripe occupied more than a third of the entire body area. The winters that happened during this period were mild, and Carran came to the conclusion that there is logic in the ancient belief, and it may turn out to be true.

But the researcher had no illusions about this. He knew that his experiences were too insignificant. And, although many believed in his theory, it remained only an occasion for ridicule among the majority. Curran, his wife and a group of friends left the city every autumn to collect new caterpillars. They founded the so-called Society of Friends of the Wooly Worm.


30 years after the last meeting of the Society, the research was resumed by the Nature Museum of the Bear Mountain National Park. Since then, the attitude to calculations and forecasts has become more serious than before.

. For the last 10 years, the annual Autumn Festival of Woolly Worms is held in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The culmination of the event is the caterpillar race. The former mayor of the city inspects the winner and makes a forecast for the next winter: the more brown segments - the milder the winter. If black prevails, the winter will be harsh.

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Most scientists underestimate the sign of a wool caterpillar, considering it only a prejudice. They believe that it is completely unpromising to look at the disgusting mass of caterpillars in the same place for years, trying to prove popular fables.

The entomologist Mike Peters from the University of Massachusetts does not support the general opinion. According to him, indeed, there is a link between the severity of winter and the brown coloring of a bear. There is evidence that the number of brown stripes indicates the age of the caterpillar. Consequently, one can judge of a prolonged winter, or of an early spring. Only here it refers to the past period, and not to the upcoming next year.

Each year, furry worms look different. It depends on their region of habitat. If you suddenly meet a woolen caterpillar, look at its coloring and make your own prediction about the upcoming winter.

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